Trisha Brown’s Dancers Light Up Los Angeles

United StatesUnited States Trisha Brown, In Plain Site Los Angeles: Trisha Brown Dance Company, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 11.3.2017. (JRo)

Trisha Brown’s Sticks. Credit: Todd Cheney.
Trisha Brown’s Sticks (c) Todd Cheney

Cecily Campbell, Marc Crousillat, Olsi Gjeci, Leah Ives, Amanda Kmett’Pendry, Tara Lorenzen Jamie Scott, Lee Serle, Samuel Wentz

Another Story as in falling (1993)
I am going to toss my arms – if you catch them they’re yours (2011 – Excerpt)
Scallops (1973)
Sticks (1973)
M.O. (1995 – Excerpt): music – Johann Sebastian Bach
For M.G.: The Movie (1991 – Excerpt)
Spanish Dance (1973): music – Bob Dylan, ‘Early Morning Rain’ by Gordon Lightfoot

Since the 1960s, Trisha Brown has been experimenting with movement in the spirit of a scientific investigation. Like abstract painting and sculpture, her dances are about form and structure and the poetics of space. It is fitting that the work of this pioneering artist should be performed at various art venues around Los Angeles. Organized by UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, Brown’s dances were seen at The Broad, the Getty Museum, LACMA, and Hauser Wirth and Schimmel.

Another Story as in falling was danced at LACMA by Brown’s brilliant company of dancers with sensitive direction and staging by Carolyn Lucas. The audience congregated around Chris Burden’s Urban Light, a sculpture comprised of 202 vintage lampposts set in a square grid and bordered by Wilshire Boulevard and the museum plaza. Dancers in white pants and t-shirts moved with slow and deliberate steps in front of and in between the stand of lampposts. As they wove between the posts, they became kinetic sculptures integrated into Burden’s piece, igniting a dialogue between dancer and environment, lighting up the sculpture with their presence. Depending on the vantage point, bodies were either fully visible or partially hidden. A dancer’s hand and arm might be seen, while the torso and legs were obscured. As they progressed through their movements they seemed driven by an inner compulsion. There was no music urging them on, only the soundtrack of buses and cars driving past on Wilshire, the clink of glasses from the nearby bar, the chatter of conversation, and the laughter of children. Sometimes playful, the dance often focused on joints and hinges – arms bent at the elbow, knees bending low, torsos flattening and bending forward. The movements put me in mind of wayang shadow puppets from Indonesia. When the sun set and the evening gathered around us, Burden’s lamps suddenly lit up the plaza, eliciting faint smiles from the dancers and a collective murmur from the audience. The intimacy between dancers and viewers was palpable.

Five dances (some excerpted from longer pieces) were performed on the ground floor of the Broad building at LACMA, set before Richard Serra’s Band, a monumental steel sculpture composed of a trio of undulating, tilted forms. The Serra dominates the room, but Brown’s dancers, still dressed in white, created an airy, sculptural counterpoint to the mass and volume of the work. It was no accident. Brown’s dance was conceived and first performed in and around the lofts of Lower Manhattan in the heyday of Minimalist art.

In Sticks, Brown created a living, breathing, Minimalist sculpture. Two sets of two sticks, placed on the floor to create an upright V, were held by two pairs of dancers. As the dancers balanced the poles on their heads and feet, they slowly slid into a variety of positions beneath them. In a game of balance, they took on different posturings, the goal being to maintain the position of the sticks. The range of movement was mesmerizing as one waited to see if the sticks would hold or topple. If one dancer fumbled, he or she would call out ‘reset’ and both pairs would recalibrate and begin afresh until the end result was reached – a perfectly executed series of movement ending with the sticks in balance.

Though the first three indoor pieces were done in silence, the next two were accompanied by sound. An excerpt from M.O. was danced to Bach and exuded a whiff of Renaissance court dance. The excerpt from the tender For M.G.: The Movie used a soundscape of shouts, slamming doors, buzzing bees, and piano as a backdrop for a quiet pas de deux for two women.

The 30-minute program concluded with the sensual Spanish Dance, with music sung by Bob Dylan to Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Early Morning Rain’. Five female dancers were spaced at even intervals in a line in front of Robert Irwin’s Miracle Mile, a wall sculpture of red, blue, grey, and white florescent tubes of light. The last dancer in line flamboyantly raised her arms overhead in a flamenco dance gesture, while stepping forward with hips swaying until she met the back of the dancer in front of her. Ignited by the contact, the second dancer locked into the rhythm of the first, repeated the arm movement, and the two, glued together with hips swaying, continued ahead until they reached the third dancer, and so on. When the fifth dancer was finally connected to the first four, they moved forward collectively until a pillar in their line of motion abruptly ended the dance.

And so with wit, artistry, and a seriousness of purpose driven by necessity rather than ego, Trisha Brown has created enduring dances that transform space, suspend time, and add a page to the history of art and dance in America.

Jane Rosenberg

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